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Pali Canon - Udana 1975

by Sangharakshita

... life of ordinary people as we get
from the Pali Canon. That is why most of the accounts that are being written nowadays about
ancient India, that is to say India around the time of the Buddha, draw heavily upon the Pali
Canon for their information. If you want to know what sort of pottery they had, we can find
out from the Pali Canon, what sort of amusements, what sort of dress, what sort of deities
they worshipped, what were the trends of thought in those days apart from the Buddha's own -
all that information is in the Pali Canon. Even what sort of shoes they wore - there is a whole
list of them in the Pali Canon. You don't get that sort of information anywhere else in Indian
literature for that period. So, even historically, this literature is very important. It is from this
literature that the Udana comes and, as I mentioned, it is from the Khuddhaka-Nikaya.
The Udana is one of the most ancient books in the Khuddhaka-Nikaya. It is one of the most
ancient parts of the whole Canon. Possibly only parts of the Sutta-Nipata are older than some
of the parts of the Udana. We cannot even say that the Sutta-Nipata as a book is older than the
Udana as a book, but each contains different strata. In the Sutta-Nipata there are older and
there are more recent strata and similarly in the Udana. But we can say that, probably, in the
Pali Canon only parts of the Sutta-Nipata are older than the oldest parts of the Udana.
In the Udana, the main line of division is between the verse portions and the prose portions.
You will notice, as we go through, that there is a prose portion followed by a verse portion in
each section, and the [4] prose portion purports to relate the circumstances under which the
verse was delivered by the Buddha. But you will notice something quite strange as we go
along: often, the prose and the verse do not fit. Sometimes the verse seems quite
inconsequential and sometimes the prose passage seems to have little or no connection with
the verse, or the verse with the prose. It is as though they had been put together later.
Sometimes they do fit, but not very often. There is also, in the original Pali, a slight difference
of language. The language of the verses is somewhat more archaic than the language of the
prose portions. So we can say, very broadly speaking, that the verses in the Udana belong to
an older stratum of tradition than do the prose portions, though most of even the prose
portions are quite early. So, in the verses of the Udana, as with some portions of the
Sutta-Nipata, we come very near indeed to the original beginnings of Buddhism.
What does this word udana mean? This also is very important. Udana means a breathing out,
a forcible expiration. This ties up with a general Indian Hindu and Buddhist tradition about
the five breaths, the five pranas. According to this tradition, in each human being there are
five different kinds of breath governing different physiological functions. For instance, there
is a downward-going breath, by which we can expel waste matter from the system. Then there
is the in and outgoing breath, which is the breath that keeps us alive. In this way there are five
different kinds of breath or five different breathings, and udana is the outward-going breath.
So an udana in this Buddhistic sense, is something which is breathed out, something which is
expired - especially a saying, or even an exclamation, which is as it were forced from us by
great emotional and spiritual pressure, when we feel very stirred or moved by something, or
even, as we say in English, inspired - only here it is expired and therefore we speak
something out of the fullness of our feeling and our emotion or our spiritual realization. That
is called an udana.
So, strictly speaking, the udanas here are simply the verses. The verses here represent the
Buddha's utterance at certain crucial moments when he was very deeply moved, spiritually
stirred, and he spoke rhythmically in verse. So the udanas, strictly speaking, are simply these
verses, not the prose parts; but the prose parts have become connected with them in the
course of time and sometimes throw light on them, but not often. We may even notice as we
go along - we certainly did last time (I did a seminar on the Udana) - that the spirit of the
verses seems a little different from the spirit of the prose portions. The verses are not only
more archaic in diction but they are, in a way, simpler; they seem to reflect the very early,
undeveloped stage of Buddhism, perhaps the Buddhism of the Buddha himself, so far as we
can see. We shall probably notice something of all this as we go through in any case, so there
is no need to insist upon it too much.
Before we actually start, does anyone want to ask any questions on all that?
ABC: Yes, what was the fifth book of the sutta you mentioned?
S: The Khuddhaka. It means miscellaneous. That is the collection which contains the
Dhammapada, the Jatakas, the Bodhi (?) , the Patisambhida-magga, the Sutta-Nipata and, of
course, the Udana and also the (?). It is quite a miscellaneous collection. Literally, Khuddhaka
means little [5] - the little collection - but it has swollen in the course of time. It is generally
rendered, therefore, 'The Miscellaneous Collection'. It is the biggest of all the Nikayas in
Altogether, in the Royal Thai edition, this Pali literature comprises 45 volumes of about 500pages each. It is a quite substantial literature. It is practically all in English. There are only
one or two books where there is some Pitaka that has not been translated.
"Honour to that Exalted One, Arahant, rightly awakened.
Chapter I. Enlightenment. i
Thus have I heard: On a certain occasion the Exalted One was staying at Uruvela, on the bank
of the river Neranjara at the foot of the bodhi-tree, having just won the highest wisdom.
Now on that occasion the Exalted One was seated for seven days in one posture and
experienced the bliss of release. Then the Exalted One, after the lapse of those seven days,
during the first watch of the night, rousing himself from that concentration of mind, gave
close attention to causal uprising in direct order, thus: This being, that becomes; by the arising
of this, that arises, namely: Conditioned by ignorance, activities; conditioned by activities,
consciousness; conditioned by consciousness, mind-and-body; conditioned by
mind-and-body, the six sense-spheres; conditioned by the six sense-spheres, contact;
conditioned by contact, feeling; conditioned by feeling, craving; conditioned by craving,
grasping; conditioned by grasping, becoming; conditioned by becoming, birth; conditioned by
birth, old age and death, grief, lamentation, suffering, sorrow and despair come into being.
Thus is the arising of this mass of Ill.
Thereupon the Exalted One, seeing the meaning of it, at that time gave utterance to this verse
of uplift:
In sooth when things grow plain to the ardent, musing brahmin, His doubts all vanish, since
he knows thing-with-its-cause."
S: There are several points to remark on here. Let us start at the beginning. 'Thus have I heard'
- Evam me suttam - this is the phrase with which all suttas, all discourses of the Buddha,
begin, or rather the introduction begins. Does anyone have any idea who is supposed to be
speaking here?
: Ananda.
S: Ananda, because Ananda was supposed to have recited the Sutta-Pitaka, [6] according to
some accounts, or all the Pitakas according to another account, at the so-called First Council,
that is the first chanting together of the oral traditions after the Buddha's decease. Ananda is
the sort of archetypal hearer. He is the one who hears, the one who has received the tradition
and who passes it on, saying 'Thus have I heard'.
'On a certain occasion the Exalted One was staying at Uruvela, on the bank of the river
Neranjara at the foot of the bodhi-tree, having just won the highest wisdom.'
This is quite interesting in a way, inasmuch as you are given, right at the beginning, the
precise historical location. You are locating the Buddha at a certain place in north-eastern
India, at a certain period, a certain time, a certain moment, even, in his life - just after he
attained Enlightenment. Do you know what this translation, 'Exalted One', represents in Pali?
:- Bhagavan.
S: Bhagavan, yes. It is not really very satisfactory. 'Bhagavan' represents someone who is
possessed of certain attributes, certain virtues, even. I have translated it recently as 'the Richly
Endowed One'. This is what it suggests in Pali and in Sanskrit. Often, of course, it is
translated as 'the Lord', which conveys a completely different impression from the original
Pali word; it has a quite different feeling to it. Some people think of 'Lord Buddha', just like
'Lord Jesus', and much the same sort of feeling comes across, but that is just not there in the
original Pali 'Bhagavan'. 'Exalted One' is not bad, except that it suggests someone sitting up
on a high seat or something of that sort - high in position. But it isn't high in position quite in
that sense, but high in the sense of possessed of numerous glorious attributes. He is richly
endowed in himself. So here is the Buddha - Bhagavan - seated on the bank of the river
Neranjara at the foot of the bodhi-tree. He has just become Enlightened. He has been sitting
there for seven days in one posture, experiencing the bliss of release. Then, during the first
watch ...

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